Birthright Israel cancels winter trips

Iconic program offering free trips to Israel for Diaspora youth cancels trips as Gaza war rages on.

By Susan Tawil, World Israel News

Taglit-Birthright, the innovative program that gives young Jewish adults the chance to experience Israel, is cancelling its popular December trips due to heightened security concerns over the Hamas war with Israel.

Although Birthright trips were suspended during the Covid epidemic, previous conflicts between Israel and terror groups in Gaza and Judea and Samaria did not lead to similar cancellations.

Birthright offers Jews aged 18-26 a completely free 10-day heritage trip to Israel.

Brainchild of philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, in league with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, the program launched its first trip in 1999. Since then, over 800,000 young Jews from over 66 different countries have visited the Holy Land, nearly all for the first time.

The Birthright initiative now has over 40,000 donors who fund its $175 million annual budget. Each participant costs the program approximately $3,500.

Supports feel it is a worthwhile investment; the hope being that the positive exposure to Israel will strengthen the bond of the young adults to the Jewish homeland. Birthright trips also encourage greater involvement in the Jewish community and stronger Jewish affiliation.

Security is always an issue for the organizers. A security guard accompanies every group and there are strict policies to ensure safety.

Participants are not allowed to leave the group without authorized supervision. Birthright trips work closely with the IDF (Israel’s military) and with local security throughout the tours. During other violent times in Israel, itineraries were modified to avoid areas of conflict.

Cancelling the December trips was a hard call. It is winter break for college students and as such, is a popular time to join. Besides the danger inherent in the current war with Hamas, the decision to cancel was also impacted by the flight cancellations of all major airlines, both to and from Israel.

Only El Al, Israel’s national airline, has maintained its flight schedule. Birthright CEO Gidi Mark hopes to resume the organization’s trips as soon as the situation becomes “more stable.”

In the meantime, Birthright has launched another initiative. Birthright “alumni,” ages 18-40, are being recruited as volunteers to fill in for the substantial portion of Israel’s work force that has been called up for military duty.

Israeli farms, for instance, are in desperate need of help to harvest crops and assist in other duties.

Read  Birthright calls on its 850,000 alumni to volunteer in Israel during Gaza war

Other volunteers are needed to operate chesed (lovingkindness) organizations—donation centers to pack food and necessities for soldiers and families evacuated from their homes in the towns bordering Gaza and Lebanon—and to help in other ways throughout the country.

Although volunteers have to pay their own transportation and insurance, Birthright helps place them, and provides their accommodation, transit within Israel, and gives a small stipend. Over a thousand people have already registered, and Birthright organizers plan to expand the program to bring many more.